New CEO Takes Helm at AEB
By James Blake
When long time CEO Andreas Romanos moved on in May, the Executive Board of the Association of European Businesses (AEB) needed to find someone who could combine the range of skills and experiences needed to head up an organisation which proudly promotes its ethos under the banner ‘quality information, effective lobbying, and valuable networking.’ It is difficult to escape the idea that they have found what they were looking for in Dr Frank Schauff, the new CEO.
Despite political contacts between some European states and Russia becoming strained of late, business is booming as never before, with more European companies working in Russia or looking to move in, and more Russian companies looking for partners in ventures as diverse as construction work, hi technology, banking and agriculture. In 2006 foreign investment into Russia totaled $40 Billion with some estimates suggesting this could more than double this year.
The growing strength of the corporate relationship between Russia and the EU in many ways reflects the work of AEB in the Russian Federation, which for more than a decade has been working assiduously to foster closer corporate contacts, a clearer understanding of the context in which those contacts operate, and greater familiarity with key players.
Dr Schauff is a rare man who exudes significant intellect while at the same time coming across as being easygoing and someone to enjoy having a chat with. Coming originally from what was then West Germany his initial interest in things Russian was in part sparked by an uncle who despite having been a prisoner of war here, said little but positive things about the country. He undertook Russian studies at the University of Cologne and managed to spend some time at the Volgograd State University which gave him the opportunity to both hone up on his Russian and also to experience the country first hand, with trips to Moscow and St Petersburg. Before further postgraduate work at the London School of Economics which saw him acquire a Masters of Government and Politics in Russia, He earned a Doctorate in East European History from the University of Cologne.
He has put this academic energy to good use, working both as a lecturer in East European studies at the Free University in Berlin, as well as advising the Social Democratic Party of Germany on their foreign policy. This later role helps with his new role in that it gives him a detailed grasp of both Russian and EU policies, how they interact with each other, and the key players on both sides. This policy understanding can’t be underestimated at a time when some of the framework for the business environment between Russia and the EU is about to change, with the current 1994 agreement between the two due for renewal this November, and Russia’s long and torturous procession to World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership surely reaching the closing stages.
But you couldn’t just describe him as a policy driven bureaucrat. Anyone meeting the man is bound to be struck by his enthusiasm for the task at hand and his considerable personal warmth. This ideally suits someone who on occasion needs to go and lobby directly with key individuals on behalf of European businesses, and Frank’s background has enabled him to pick up an extensive range of contacts within Russia. One also gets the idea that doing the net-working rounds of the AEB, and its range of Committees and working groups, won’t be a chore for him. Being that he is conversant in Russian, English, French, Spanish, and Italian, along with some east European languages, almost all of the 560 companies who make up the membership will be able to put their concerns or issues directly to him.
There’s nothing like good luck right at the start when taking on a new position and Sochi’s winning bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics has provided a good deal of this for Dr Schauff. In its wake an AEB working group made its way through the Southern Federal District, visiting Sochi, Anapa, Rostov and Krasnodar to take a look at opportunities which were likely to become available for European businesses. He’s come back from the trip, which included a meeting with Presidential envoy Dmitry Kozak, impressed, noting that ‘the administrative officials and bureaucrats we came across were as positive about getting international investment and corporate support as any I have ever seen in Russia.’ No small claim when you consider he’s met more than a few Russian officials. But to take advantage of this he also notes that European companies need to move very quickly. ‘It is only seven years away and this will pass very quickly. I think there’s opportunities not just for construction companies and infrastructure specialists but also for banks, tourism, consultancy firms, even automotive firms, if they move fairly quickly.’
Of the European firms already in Russia, he notes that they already generally know the Russian business environment and can look at new business opportunities with an understanding that many of those firms in Europe lack. Some aspects of media coverage of things Russian doesn’t always help. ‘A lot of media coverage of Russia doesn’t really tell the whole story, so it distorts perceptions. There are some very good business opportunities here in Russia. Those companies that are here aren’t naïve, they know there are issues to deal with, but they are in a position to access those opportunities. Russia has amazing business dynamics, with a stable government, well educated population, and impressive economic growth.’ He adds that the issues that members most often call for information and support on are bureaucracy, taxes, and the judiciary, while noting both that Russia isn’t alone in addressing these issues and that there is room for improvement.
For the AEB itself he is expecting membership to reach more than 600 by the end of this year, and is setting up a new subcommittee on machinery. What he is most keen to do is raise the profile of the organisation and ensure that it has closer integration not just with European business, but also with Russian business. Ideally he would like to see the AEB become the pre-eminent reference point between the world of business and the EU and Russia. This is all going to take some work, with emphasis also going towards building on his links with administrative and political figures, to ensure that dialogue reaches a new level.
This is all some way off for Dr Schauff, and right at this particular moment he does have something a little more pressing on his mind. His wife will soon deliver his second child. So if you think that good things come in three’s you can add this to the Sochi Olympic win, and the start of a new position and assume that the gods are smiling upon him. Finally one must note that when he’s asked what is his favourite place in Russia he replies Moscow, his new home. ‘There is nowhere else that has the dynamism, that has changed so much in such a short period of time. You can feel the change.’ It adds to the perception that he’s a man who likes a bit of change, wants to add something to it, and has the skills to bring it about in a positive way, for the benefit of both Russian and EU business ties, and the role of the AEB.